Elouise Cobell




was driven by an intense sense of justice. She couldnot bear to hear the plight of Indians in previous decades.Subsequently, she was compelled to file a suit in 1996. The caselasted for 16 years before the court gave the final ruling (Ojibwa,2009). The judge issued a settlement of $3.4 billion in favor ofCobell’s claim (Peirano, 2013). The massive amount was officiallyacknowledged as the largest compensation program in the history ofthe U.S. The Federal government had been found guilty ofmismanagement of lands and funds belonging to the Indians.Presidential and Congressional approvals for the payment wereobtained in 2009 and 2010 respectively (Whitty, 2005). Cobell’sstruggle against the government was motivated by three reasons,namely, incompetent tracking of income, unequal distribution offunds, and improper division of land.

Indian populations experienced prolonged periods of oppression anddiscrimination. For example, over 500 Blackfeet Indians died ofstarvation in 1883-1884 (Whitty, 2005). In this instance, thegovernment failed to supply famished Indians with adequate foodresources. Indians had been cordoned off in their territory, whichwas bereft of the pronghorn and bison. Also, systemic corruptioncontributed to the widespread looting of rations meant for theIndians. The number of deaths began to rise in 1883. Estimates showthat almost 25% of Blackfeet Indians died in Montana (Whitty, 2005).The intervention from the Federal government arrived too late to haltthe scourge. Consequently, Cobell felt obliged to sue the governmentfor compensation worth several billions.

The numerous stories about Ghost Ridge also motivated Cobell tocontinue with her trial. Her parents and grandparents frequentlyrelayed to her the unfortunate experiences of the Blackfeet. GhostRidge was replete with mass graves where Indians were buried aftersuccumbing to a streptococcal epidemic (Whitty, 2005). Although sometried to survive by chewing tree barks, the 18-month ordeal led todeaths by starvation. Meditating on the sufferings of the Blackfeetimbibed her with courage to keep “fighting the same government thattried to get rid of this entire race of people” (Whitty, 2005). Thetrauma associated with losing many tribesmen inspired Cobell tolaunch a legal battle against the government.

The Department of Interior had privileges of private propertyrestricted to the use of foreign corporations. Indian lands andterritories were leased to commercial entities such as agriculturalcorporations. Timber and oil companies were also allowed to utilizeIndian property at a specified fee (Whitty, 2005). Nonetheless,Cobell alleged that the Federal government had been negligent forover a century. The Individual Indian Trust had been severelymismanaged such that the Indians were regarded as mere pawns. Theirpayment receipts were also lesser than the revenues obtained from theleases (Whitty, 2005). Therefore, Cobell was intent on ensuring thatthe government fulfilled its obligations to the Blackfeet community.

Injustice was perpetrated against the Indian community in thatforeign users of their land created plenty of wealth. Variousnon-Indians have exploited the abundant natural resources found onIndian lands. Some of these resources include the oil fields inOklahoma (Whitty, 2005). By comparison, the landowners receivedmeager payments below reasonable levels. In fact, some landownershave been among the 40% unemployed citizens and 23% of those livingunder the poverty line (Whitty, 2005). Indians are classified intodifferent tribes based on dialect and family heritage. In particular,the Blackfeet community experienced over 30% rate of povertyaccompanied by a whopping 70% unemployment (Whitty, 2005). Nationalstatistics also revealed that Indians were at least twice as poorcompared to other Americans. Such injustice moved Cobell to proceedwith the lawsuit despite the financial challenges of battling thegovernment’s legal team.

Granted, Cobell allowed some treaties to be implemented beforelaunching her lawsuit. Several remedies had been proposed in anattempt to lessen the hostilities between the Indians and thegovernment. Nevertheless, the abject failure of such treatiesemboldened Cobell to file the landmark case. The government wasrequired to remit all unpaid leases for a total of 118 years (Whitty,2005). The lawsuit also sought to engineer accountability byrequiring a tally of revenues over the past century. The Federalgovernment was claimed to owe $176 billion to Indian owners.According to this arrangement, each Indian would receive an excess of$350,000 (Whitty, 2005). Consequently, the government’s failure topropose and implement functional treaties justified Cobell’sdecision to solicit judicial interpretation.

Also, Cobell was motivated by the desire to elevate Red Indians to alevel of prominence rivaling that of Europeans or Americans. Controlover private Indian lands had allowed regular Americans to dominatemajor industries such as agriculture, grazing, mining, oil, and gas.The success of the current case had a direct bearing on otherlawsuits such as the Tribal Trust lands (Whitty, 2005). Therefore,Cobell was inspired to intensify her struggle against the governmentsince other cases would be determined using the current ruling as aprecedent. Consequently, she kept presenting further evidence toprove her case at the government’s expense.

Indeed, Cobell’s tussle against the government was primarilymotivated by the poor tracking of income and the unequal distributionof funds. Another factor concerns the improper division of land. TheAmerican government had frustrated the Blackfeet community throughoppression and discrimination. In fact, many Indians had died ofstarvation while many others descended into poverty and debt.Therefore, Cobell endeavored to win her case at law.


Ojibwa. (2009). Breaking News: Cobell v Salazar Settled. NativeAmerican Netroots. Retrieved fromhttp://www.nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/306/breaking-news-cobell-v-salazar-settled

Peirano, M. (2013, Feb. 22). Millions at stake as deadline looms fortribal class-action settlement. Cronkitenewsonline.com.Retrieved fromhttp://cronkitenewsonline.com/2013/02/millions-at-stake-as-deadline-looms-for-tribal-class-action-settlement/

Whitty, J. (2005, Sept.) `s Accounting Coup.Motherjones. Retrieved fromhttp://www.motherjones.com/politics/2005/09/accounting-coup-0